Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Cookies!

Oh Christmas cookies, how I love thee. Let me count the ways. You are festive and delicious. You bring people together. You come in many shapes and sizes. You are a reason to bake for hours on end. You are full of happy memories and traditions.

This past weekend, I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen with my aunt Jen. We made 3 different types of cookies for her to give out and bring to her school. It was one of the most enjoyable baking experiences because we were so well-organized and in sync with each other. My uncle Sean had set up our work station with everything he thought we would need so that it would be right at our fingertips. My cousin Caitlin even helped up with the very important placement of the Hershey Kisses on the peanut butter cookies and rolling out some of the gingerbread people.

Side note: It took us 5 hours to bake all of these cookies. Near the end, we were exhausted and needed real food. Enter Sean to the rescue with a delicious dinner. While he was cooking and our cookies were baking, we regained our sanity with the humor and delight we found in mini bottles of wine...

No wine glasses were used in the consumption of this wine. :)
The process of forming cookies and making them all the same size is far less daunting these days thanks to my very handy cookie scoop…aka the BEST BAKING TOOL EVER. Seriously, the thing is like magic for cookie dough. If you don’t have one, put it on your Christmas list right this instant. I have the Oxo Good Grips Medium Cookie Scoop. The medium size scoops out 1½ tablespoons of dough, which apparently it yields 2¾” diameter cookie, but I haven’t actually measured any of the cookies myself.

Anyway, I was so busy making dough, forming cookies, and topping them as they came out of the oven, that I didn’t have a chance to take pictures of the process. I only have pictures of the end result. Also, we used my aunt’s recipes for these cookies, so the recipes I’ve included below are the ones from my family recipe book. For the Peanut Butter Blossoms and Button Cookies, the recipes don’t differ that much from what we used. As for the Gingerbread Cookies, that recipe comes from the Joy of Cooking. Jen has an older edition of the Joy of Cooking and my copy didn’t have the same recipe. But I was able to find Jen’s version online. Hooray for the internet!

I hope enjoy these tasty holiday treats!

Gingerbread People (Reduced-Fat)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1¾ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
½ cup molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together butter, brown sugar and egg until well blended. Add molasses, vanilla and lemon zest and beat until well combined.

Gradually stir in the dry ingredients until well blended and smooth. Divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic and let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours.

To bake, position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets.

Place 1 portion of the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Very lightly sprinkle flour over the surface of the dough and dust the rolling pin. Roll out to a scant ¼ inch thick. Lift the dough frequently and add a bit more flour to the work surface and rolling pin as necessary to prevent sticking. Cut out the cookies using a 5-inch-tall gingerbread boy or girl cutter. With a spatula, transfer them to the cookie sheets, spacing about 1½ inches apart. Roll the dough scraps and continue cutting out cookies until all the dough is used.

If desired, garnish with nonpareils, nuts, raisins, or red hots.

Bake 1 sheet at a time, until the edges of the cookies are just barely dark, 7 to 10 minutes; rotate the sheet halfway through baking for even browning. Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand until the cookies firm slightly. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

Gingerbread People!
Button Cookies
1 cup butter
4 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
2 cups chopped nuts (walnuts)
powdered sugar

Cream butter and sugar in an electric mixer. Add salt and vanilla. Gradually add flour until mixed. Add nuts. Roll dough into balls the size of small walnuts.  Bake at 275°F for 1 hour.  Roll in powdered sugar when hot and again when cold.

Button Cookies! (Also known as Russian Tea Cake or Snowballs.)
Peanut Butter Blossoms
1¼ cup flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter
½ cup peanut butter
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 package of Hershey’s Kisses

Preheat oven to 375ยบ F.  In small bowl, mix together flour baking soda, and slat.  Set aside.  In large mixing bowl, cream butter.  Add peanut butter, sugar, and brown sugar until well mixed.  Mix in egg and vanilla.  Spoon out 1-inch balls on to ungreased baking sheet.  Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

While the cookies are baking, unwrap the Hershey Kisses. As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, press 1 Hershey Kiss into the center of each cookie. Allow cookies and chocolate to cool completely before storing.

Peanut Butter Blossoms!
Thanks for stopping by!

<3 Buttercup

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